Parashat Tzav appears at first blush to be rather nondescript. Its first half is essentially a continuation of the laws of the sacrifices, which formed the subject matter of the previous parashah, Vayikra. Its second half simply recounts the installation rites through which Aaron and his sons were initiated into the priesthood, the details of which we heard when these rites were first commanded, in the middle of parashat Tetzaveh.1 The description in parashat Tzav of how these rites were performed for seven days appears to be merely a repeat of that section of parashat Tetzaveh, or at best, a prologue to the events that occurred on the eighth day of the installation ceremonies—described at the beginning of the next parashah, Shemini—in which some real drama occurs.

But this deceivingly “bland” parashah begins with a strikingly unconventional opening. Usually, when God communicates His commandments to us, the introductory phrase is: “God spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak [or Say] to the Israelites….’@” However, in a few, exceptional places, the introductory phrase is, instead: “God spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Command [tzav] the Israelites….’@”2 In other words, in most instances, God simply instructs Moses to tell us what He wants us to do. In a few cases, however, God is so concerned that we fulfill His will that He instructs Moses to command us to do it.

The opening passage of parashat Tzav is the first instance of such a departure from the usual formula, and the whole parashah takes its name from this exceptional word.

Of course, God wants us to observe all His commandments, and this desire on His part is expressed as the inner and innate desire of every Jew to fulfill God’s commandments in the best way possible. But by couching the majority of His commandments not as commandments but merely as instructions, He is understating just how much He wants us to fulfill them; His instructions do not seem so compelling that they leave us no room to exercise our free choice whether or not to obey.

In contrast, when God chooses to couch His will as an explicit command, He is conveying the full urgency He attaches to it. We sense that this particular instruction carries much more weight than usual, that somehow more than usual is at stake, and this evokes in us a concomitant sense of urgency in fulfilling it. In a sense, our free choice is partially taken away. We may, of course, still choose not to comply, but the unusual seriousness of the idiom makes this much less likely. The deeper God’s wish that we fulfill His will seems to us, the deeper the chord it strikes in our soul. It reaches into the level of our consciousness where we cannot disobey His will, simply because in our innermost essence, His will is our will, for He and we are one.

The theme and message of parashat Tzav is thus that even though God as a rule phrases His desires in a relatively restrained way, we should realize that He does so solely to allow us full autonomy in exercising our free choice. In truth, however, He deeply wants us to fulfill His will, and this awareness should awaken in us a correspondingly deep commitment to fulfilling it. If we can at all times remain cognizant of how much our study of the Torah and fulfillment of its commandments mean to God, we can ensure that our observance of them will be equally as meaningful to us as well.

This idea is best expressed specifically by the fact that the content of parashat Tzav is not innovative, but apparently, as we said, merely a continuation of the content of parashat Vayikra and the execution of the commands already given in the middle of parashat Tetzaveh.


Parashat Tzav enlarges upon parashat Vayikra both qualitatively and quantitatively. The additional laws concerning the sacrifices that were outlined in parashat Vayikra add details regarding how to offer up those sacrifices—a qualitative supplement; the new types of sacrifices introduced increase the possibilities of what to offer up—a quantitative supplement.

The Torah ascribes significance both to quality and quantity. Oftentimes, we aspire to grow and develop qualitatively, to reach greater heights and deeper dimensions, but care little to do more of what we are already doing; we do not recognize the latter as progress. But in truth, quantitative increase is real growth, too, and ultimately enhances the quality as well. One halachic example of this enhancement is the minyan (prayer quorum), in which a group of ten men assumes a status of sanctity qualitatively greater than that of the total of its individual members.

In the existential sense, quantity and quality are analogous to the material and the spiritual. The material is measured primarily in quantity, by its dimensions or mass; spiritual entities are characterized by their qualitative depth and dimension. The Torah’s vision of progress in Divine service does not focus exclusively on the spiritual; it embraces the elevation of our material resources, as well. In this sense, the involvement of the material in our Divine service also resembles quantitative increase in its effect—the transformation of the material into the spiritual expands the domain of the spiritual. Ultimately, this quantitative expansion also enhances the quality of the soul’s spiritual experience.

On a broader scale, quantitative development in our relationship with God entails expanding not merely our own scope of devotion but also the circle of God’s devotees: in addition to intensifying our own devotion, we endeavor to inspire others as well. The resulting aggregate devotion qualitatively enhances both our own Divine consciousness and that of those we inspire.3


We see thus how the content of parashat Tzav—an addition to parashat Vayikra—emphasizes that we are to take our performance of God’s will seriously, constantly striving to enhance it qualitatively and expand it quantitatively.

Similarly, the second half of parashat Tzav—the description of how Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons scrupulously fulfilled God’s commandments regarding the installation rites—demonstrates just how dedicated we must be to performing the commandments precisely. The more we sense God’s command in the commandments, His urgent desire that we perform them, the more care we will take in performing them properly, just as we take special care and go out of our way to fulfill the wishes of those we love. In this sense, parashat Tzav is the fullest response to the call of God, sounded from His very essence, at the beginning of parashat Vayikra.4